An evolving program that’s holistically supporting employees during the coronavirus pandemic led to LifeLabs’ win for its mental-health program at the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 14.

Within the organization’s wellness program, which was launched in 2019, the emotional pillar includes: a separate annual maximum for mental-health practitioners through its flexible benefits plan; an expanded list of the mental-health practitioners covered; a mental-health leadership certificate program for all human resources managers; and communications campaigns in May and October featuring personal mental-health stories from employees.

Read: Who are the winners of the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards?

“The way we’ve pulled out mental health as its own category for paramedicals and expanded the list of practitioners you can claim under, we have really set the tone that we’re committed to investing in our employees’ mental health,” says Crystal Arnold, program manager of retirement and benefits at LifeLabs.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, LifeLabs strengthened its mental-health strategy to address employees’ intensified needs. It included a dedicated coronavirus wellness resources page to provide easy access to free services, such as virtual health care, home pharmacy delivery, weekly live/recorded webinars and other online resources. It also developed a package for its mental-health leaders to showcase support tools and provide tips on guiding their teams.

The organization had already planned to expand the mental-health leadership training program, says Arnold, “so we were able to jump off of that and expand that to our operations through COVID.”

Read: Workplace mental-health training on the rise: Sanofi survey

LifeLabs is also leveraging new communications channels, including a ‘Catching up with Charles’ video segment with its president and chief executive officer speaking to employees about current topics, including mental health.

“Our CEO is a former executive at [Bell Canada], so mental health is something he’s very passionate about as well,” says Trin Pettingill, national director of total rewards, HR operations and technology. “I think having that support from the CEO . . . puts a face to our strategy. . . . and has made it very visible.”

She also notes the organization was engaged in the pandemic before it was declared by the World Health Organization almost 20 months ago. “We would have had patient service centres asking people about health and travel before it became full-blown, . . . so they’ve been on the frontlines of this for going on two years, which does dovetail nicely with some of the changes we’ve made.”

Read: How 5 employers are helping staff battle mental-health challenges